Economy & Business
11:47 am
Fri May 30, 2014

Regional Planners Celebrate Federal Promise to Boost Manufacturing in Southeastern Wisconsin

What the Century City project on Milwaukee's north side looks like today.
What the Century City project on Milwaukee's north side looks like today.
Credit Susan Bence

The Milwaukee area could get an infusion of federal money -- or at least advice -- on how to grow its manufacturing sector.

This week, the US Department of Commerce named the region as one of 12 eligible for assistance, as part of the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership. It’s a program the Obama administration rolled out late last year.

Pat O’Brien helped apply for the federal designation. He’s president of the Milwaukee Development Corporation. O’Brien says the manufacturing program will connect the region with about a dozen federal agencies, which award more than a billion dollars in funding.

“The federal government is constantly having a grant application process, so they’re consistently putting out money," he says. "The federal government wants to direct this money to communities where it can be most beneficial, and we’ve been selected as such."

O’Brien says the Milwaukee region highlighted several of its regional economic development plans, and potentially transformational projects. One is the development of a global water technology hub.

Another is a relatively new effort to grow what’s called Food and Beverage Milwaukee. Shelley Jurewicz is executive director of the business accelerator.

“It was easy to insert the information about the strengths of the industry and the work that we’ve done, in particular over the last two years, around creating a pipeline for talent for the industry, starting with the high school level going to the technical colleges, and on," Jurewicz says. "That’s direct, actionable work that we’ve been able to accomplish."

Plans for redeveloping the former Tower Automotive site include infrastructure improvements and proposed new construction.
Plans for redeveloping the former Tower Automotive site include infrastructure improvements and proposed new construction.
Credit The Sigma Group

The region’s application also outlined the Century City project on Milwaukee’s north side. It’s transforming the old Tower Automotive property into an industrial park. Kein Burton works for the city’s redevelopment authority. She says the preferential federal treatment could help with more than bricks and mortar. For instance, it could result in funding for job training.

“Land is now ready for sale at Century City, and in fact the first building is going to break ground some time late summer," Burton says. "But we still need to make sure that we have workforce resources available for those business, as well as existing businesses."

Unemployment in the Century City neighborhood is high, according to Howard Snyder. He heads the nearby Northwest Side Community Development Corporation.

While planners are not sure yet how much of a difference the special help will make, Snyder finds reason to celebrate.

“It's a really happy day for Milwaukee, and it’s a even happier day for this community," he says. "You know, our world is a competitive world, and we just got something that we can compete with, that other neighborhoods and other communities, and perhaps even other cities, don’t have."

The Milwaukee region will be included in the federal manufacturing partnership for two years. After that, planners will have to prove Milwaukee made good use of the aid, in order to continue receiving it.